It can be quite easy to bind a film under seals of approvals like ‘masterpiece’ and ‘milestone’. These words can ensure a film’s longevity and, in fact, make a reviewer’s job easy. “There you go, this one’s a masterpiece. It is an important milestone in Tamil cinema.”
But there are few films that venture beyond the confines of such labels and Pariyerum Perumal is one such example. At a time when Tamil cinema is turning to look back at its portrayal of caste, more importantly, to rewrite its portrayals, Pariyerum Perumal can effortlessly be called its luminary.
The voice of the filmmaker, therefore, is what matters the most. Films, before they turned into being just star vehicles, were a storyteller’s most powerful tool. Director Mari Selvaraj has used this perfectly, giving us the most important film in recent years. But ironically, the film has a relatively smaller opening, screening in lesser number of theatres.
As audiences, we tend to root for the film’s protagonist. Their caste, colour, physique or the greys in their character matter very little. Take the 2013 Marathi film Fandry for instance. Jabya (played by Somnath Awghade) is our hero. His shame becomes ours, his anger, we feel as our own. Pariyerum Perumal is our hero and we do not flinch for a second to take his side or feel his shame. This is Mari Selvaraj’s loudest voice.
While the song Karuppi, that was released many months ago, hinted that the dog might die in the film, two days before the film’s release, the makers had released the song’s video, confirming our doubts. This also came as a surprise. Isn't this an important plot point? Why have they let this out? Perhaps there’s more to it than the dog’s death? Mari transports Karuppi to a metaphorical plane, and with it the film is elevated as well.
Pariyerum Perumal aka Pariyan, played brilliantly by Kathir, aspires to become a lawyer so much so that he introduces himself as ‘Pariyerum Perumal BA BL mela oru kodu (bar)’. Jyothi Mahalakshmi aka Jo (played by Anandhi) and Anand (played by Yogi Babu) are his classmates at the Tirunelveli Law College.
The film wastes no time in leading you into their lives. The dialogue “ungappanum, engappanum eppo ivanga kitta kai katti vela seiyardha nirutharangalo appo than idhellam maarum” (only when your father and mine stop serving them with folded hands will things change) sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Mari, like the film’s producer Pa Ranjith, has placed all the subtexts out there in the open and this stands out right from the film’s opening shot.
The film also questions a number of other ‘accepted’ practises. Why is a law college in Tirunelveli teaching its students in English? Why is the inability to speak in English looked down upon? In a classroom, who decides who can sit in the front row and who gets to sit in the last?
Pariyerum Perumal, therefore, is in its details. The placement of Ilayaraja's poster or the change in one’s tone while referring to another’s hometown, the association of the directions Merku and Kizhakku (West and East) with respect to one’s caste, the two-tumbler system, Karuppi smeared in blue are elements that’ll make you delve deeper.
It is Pariyan’s way of dealing with things that’ll endear him to you. When his angst reaches a tipping point, we’re already seething. The camera movements, there’s no single static shot in this film (the use of a gimbal is evident), will forcefully place you in Pariyan’s shoes. There’s a lingering, mounting sense of restlessness in these frames that complement very well to the story. The film’s cinematography by Sridhar is one of its highlights.
While the past few weeks have seen gruesome caste-based killings in Telangana, certain sequences in this film are very hard-hitting and shocking. The dialogue “yen kulasami ku seiyara sevaya nenachu panren pa” (I consider this as a service to my clan’s god) will make you retch in fear.
The film’s soundtrack by Santhosh Narayanan is easily his most important work till date. Listening to Santhosh sing 'Karuppi' or 'Naan Yaar' on the big screen gets under your skin, quite literally. He has also retained the raw quality in these folk songs without adulterating it with a composer’s version, which is indeed a refreshing, most-enjoyable change.
Yogi Babu is a natural with his lines. His delivery will extract some of the loudest laughs from the theatre. Anandhi’s character, although too chirpy in the beginning, is endearing with her naivety as the film progresses.
Pariyerum Perumal begins with this line - ‘Caste and religion are against humanity’ but it cannot be tagged as a film on caste. Unlike most films, Pariyerum Perumal does not leave you hanging. Can there be a change? The film’s ending dialogue and closing shot are your answers.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.